Remember The Famous Five, Enid Blyton’s crime-busting gang of four children and one dog? Timmy would often creep up to George at moments of high tension, lick her and whine, and Blyton interpreted the licking according to context. Sometimes, Timmy had displeased his mistress and wanted to apologise; sometimes, he wanted to console her. Of course, when the children paused for refreshments, Timmy might be granted a lick of ice cream. Yes, dogs lick for a variety of reasons. They lick furniture. They lick one another. They lick us. And, although Blyton foisted the actual care of her pets on to others around her, when it came to interpreting their motivation for certain behaviours, she wasn’t far wrong. Your cavapoo will lick for all the reasons in this article because he is a dog, and what follows is applicable to dogs in general.
Dog meets dog
As is the case with humans, a pup’s most important relationship is at first with his mother. His mother will lick him to preen him, to stimulate defaecation and to show him affection. In turn, the pup will lick his mother round her mouth, not merely out of affection but to encourage her to regurgitate food which he can digest easily.
My own six-month pup greets my eleven-year-old with an enthusiastic (but gentle) lick in the morning because she seems to have formed a special bond with her. Friendly dogs may meet other dogs on their walks and give them a lick by way of introducing themselves or to show pleasure in seeing a pal. Because licking is non-threatening, a submissive dog may also lick a more dominant dog to demonstrate that he is not challenging that dog’s authority, and often follows this by rolling over and displaying his front. This is complete submission; a half-roll in which the dog lies on one side is a sign of trust. Your dog is also gaining information from his friend or stranger. Where has he been? What has he been eating? After all, exploring with the nose and mouth is his chief way of finding out about the world.
In just the same way, your dog will lick surfaces. My older dog has a liking for the protective covers I use on chairs and settees. Presumably, the fabric tastes agreeable. However, she is not drawn to bedclothes or rugs in this way – they are merely chewed! Bear in mind that your dog will not be fussy about the objects he examines with his tongue. These can include his own waste and urine, and that of other dogs. He is not doing it to be distasteful. A friend used to refer to urine on the pavements and garden walls as “wee-mail”. To a dog, they are as informative as a memo on the desk.
Excessive licking of surfaces is a sign of boredom or anxiety in some dogs, so it is worth seeking ways of solving the problem. I cannot vouch for the lickmat, or lickimat as it is sometimes known, except to say that it would be unsuitable for my dogs. For a dog that cuddles toys rather than consuming them, it might prove an investment. They are squares containing rubber or plastic bristles which the owner smears with dog-friendly peanut butter or some other creamy treat, and work on the principle that your dog cannot bite the food. He has to use his tongue to extract it. He is thus satisfying his need to lick and occupying his time. An occupied dog whose brain is being stimulated is a happy dog.
My four require a shell or vessel that cannot be destroyed.If your dog is destructive, consider something harder such as a virtually indestructible rubber cone and smear the peanut butter on the inside, or on to a reindeer or buffalo horn. These last for months, but are not advisable for pups with their first set of teeth.
My dog keeps licking himself- why?
We all know that cats preen themselves, but to some owners, it comes as a surprise that a dog takes care of his personal appearance and comfort by preening too. Naturally, there are areas he can’t reach, and so he will need to be brushed. Make sure that he hasn’t come into contact with a harmful substance; wash or brush anything dangerous from his fur before he can lick it.
Has your dog got a medical problem? If he is incessantly licking the same place – and possibly causing hair loss or discolouration – he may be relieving irritation from an allergy. Flea saliva causes some dogs intense discomfort, and it is the owner’s job to treat the fleas, but the dog may lick the affected place until it is bald. Prevent him from reaching it. A buster collar can help, although dogs hate wearing them. I inherited an older dog who had licked and bitten himself bald on the back because of this. Treatment for parasites and a collar restored his back and his fur to normal.
My first collie used to lick his front paws until the fur was pink. A dog walker recommended this old country remedy: steep elderflowers in boiling water, strain and cool the juice and apply. Though doubtful, I followed the advice and my dog’s paws lost their ugly stain. He seemed much more comfortable.
We rub painful joints, and dogs are no different from us in having arthritis or other painful conditions. Licking releases endorphins, those marvellous substances that relieve pain and induce pleasure. However, licking will not tackle the cause of the pain. Take the dog to the vet. Note that you may be able to delay giving painkillers, with the inevitable side-effects. After consulting the vet, I give my older dog a daily supplement containing glucosamine. The lower strength can be bought over the counter or ordered online, but Tamsin now requires the more powerful dose, which must be prescribed. She is still apparently pain-free and thoroughly enjoys walks and ball-play. Consult your vet as there are a few supplements on the market. I also allow her a little of the oil from the sardine tin.
Incidentally, unless your dog is harming himself, you may be doing exactly the right thing to leave him to lick his wounds. There is now evidence that dog saliva contains enzymes and antimicrobial compounds that deter infection and promote new cell growth. The French have a saying, “Dog’s tongue, doctor’s tongue,” the ancient Egyptians used dog saliva in some of their remedies and there is evidence that saliva placed on a wound can speed healing.
Above all, watch your dog’s licking. If he is licking himself, whether he is preening or has a medical condition, he is taking care of his needs, and in both cases, you can help.
My dog licks me and I love/detest it
Whether or not you allow your dog to lick you is as personal a choice as to whether you allow him on the bed or the chairs. “Doctor, Doctor, I think I’m a dog. Thank you for asking me to sit down and talk about it, but I’m not allowed on the furniture”. Some of Fido’s licking activities will be related to sheer love! My year-old boy is a Lothario. He places his paws about my neck and kisses me with tenderness, gazing into my eyes with his own beautiful amber-green…..slight pause for melodic violin music. If your dog licks you when you reappear after an absence or makes for you when you are showing distress, he is undoubtedly showing you his affection, sympathy and concern. Licking makes him feel better, so why shouldn’t it do the same for you? His unconditional love for you will make you feel better, and – who knows? – some of the substances in his saliva may be beneficial to that grazed knee. No wonder I persuaded my late father than my dogs were administering “hydrolabial therapy”.
Well, Dad had a point. He had gone down to Casualty after intervening in a dog fight and had there been told that the second dirtiest mouths that gave the bites they had to treat were from dogs. The dirtiest were from humans, by the way. So don’t let your spouse lick you!
For all the substances in the saliva, there is also the probability that your dog has been foraging where you really don’t want to know, as well as washing his intimate parts. Nevertheless, I have known a vet who had been returning my dog’s kisses with eagerness. “I’m a vet, so I should know better, but…..muh, muh, muh.” Great was the joy among the staff when they discovered that my dogs have been trained to kiss on cue. “Give us a kiss.” Nurses were said to have fought for the privilege of attending the patient.
But many owners and their visitors would really rather Fido kept his tongue to himself, and they are perfectly entitled to limit contact to patting and nestling close. If your dog’s licking makes you uncomfortable or becomes excessive, it is unwise to scold him. He might simply want attention, even if it is negative. Try a firm “no”, followed by a high-quality treat or a toy when he obeys to reinforce his good behaviour.
His licking may be less altruistic than it appears. Dogs will also lick because it releases endorphins and gives them pleasure, or because your skin exudes salt or traces of your last meal. If your dog seems drawn to lick you without necessarily showing affection, some trainers suggest that you use a citrus-based soap or lotion as a deterrent.
He may lick to say sorry, but note: if you have scolded him for licking, he may lick you again in order to apologise for licking, then you scold and he again apologises…patience is key.